Tuesday, November 19, 2013
The Lone Ranger
"The Lone Ranger" is probably the ultimate proof that Hollywood studio executives are terrible at their jobs. They're supposed to be the hard-nosed, hard-drinking, long-smoking cynics who can put away all passion, all love, and all pretensions of art to finally get to real meat and bone of what the movie industry is about: making money. Why else do you think we're up to "Transformers 4" when apparently every person in the industry - including Michael Bay - hates the fuck out of that franchise? Cash up the wazoo. How does Adam Sandler manage to look at himself in the mirror these days? By counting the billions in his back account and wondering how much more he needs before he can fill an Olympic swimming pool pull of currency. But even judging a movie in the worst possible way - how many tickets it sold - "The Lone Ranger" is a complete disaster.
And you don't need to really be Houdini to realize "The Lone Ranger" was going to flop, and flop hard. Its based off an intellectual property that has not been culturally relevant since the Eisenhower Administration. Even Jerry Bruckheimer and Gore Verbinski are too young to have actually seen "The Lone Ranger" on TV when it aired, let alone its origins in radio serials. Anybody could ask around the major demographics and realize that the public conception of "The Lone Ranger" is filled with cobwebs and the stink of old-timey Native American racist stereotypes. Hollywood needs to understand that you can base new franchises off of old intellectual properties, but there are intellectual properties that people are excited to see again: like Star Wars or G.I. Joe, and there are franchises so ancient and forgotten nobodies cares anymore. Yeah, you could make a movie about "Buck Rogers" or "Commando Cody", but do you really think anyone would go see them? ANYBODY could have told Walt Disney that "The Lone Ranger" was going to tank, it doesn't take a wizard. Not people who get paid millions of dollars to know better.
What's so sad is that ultimately "The Lone Ranger" doesn't feel like a tragically ignored passion project from a serious director who really wanted to bring one of his favorite stories and characters to the big screen, like last year's under-looked "John Carter". It feels like a movie that nobody wanted to make, a basic recreation of tropes and setpieces that worked before, really without much care. Everything about this is basically a remake of "Pirate of the Caribbean" just set in the Wild West, bringing along with all the unnecessary bullshit that series acquired over the years. They made this movie because it meant Johnny Depp could wear a funny hat and play a silly over-the-top character - again. But don't think this is going to be a fun, family-friendly romp through classic adventuring. Its a sloppy bloated mess, moving at a snail's pace through two and a half hours of mindless parroting of action tropes done so much better in movies made a decade ago. If you love Westerns, don't see "The Lone Ranger". If you love The Lone Ranger as a character, don't see "The Lone Ranger". Even if you just love movies, go for a walk instead.
Johnny Depp's Tonto is basically the face of "The Lone Ranger", with him being the largest name behind this project. In the past, Depp's work with Walt Disney has created nothing but box office gold and has launched him from being a weird twitchy character actor into one of the biggest stars on the planet. So maybe, you might think that a Johnny Depp-Tonto could possibly become a manic fun subversive character much like Captain Jack Sparrow. And everybody knows, especially Jerry Bruckheimer's accountant, that Jack Sparrow was at least 60% of the reason "Pirates of the Caribbean" was just a success. Johnny Deep in a weird hat managed to turn the recent "Alice in Wonderland" into another huge hit, and that movie sucked to high heaven. So when it comes to "The Lone Ranger", give Johnny Depp some weird make-up, stick a dead bird on his head, and let him work his magic. Only he's out of tricks, barely mumbling an impression of Jay Silverheels, and acting stone faced when he's essentially the lead.
The worst part is that "The Lone Ranger" is only halfway about the actual Ranger, who is far from lonely in a film bursting at the seems with unnecessary characters and complications. Armie Hammer is game for everything the script throws at him, acting desperately heroic and foolish throughout the entire madness of it all. He might have even managed to pull it together if not let down by his sidekick-turned-lead. The poor Lone Ranger is constantly made a loser by this script, which almost never lets him actually do anything heroic or even intelligent. Though then again, the Lone Ranger seems to think he's in a different movie, one where there are easy heroes and easy villains, not a Gore Verbinski pile-up of double-crosses, betrayals, and massively complicated schemes. If this were the radio serial, the Lone Ranger would have just kicked the bad guy's ass and rode off into the sunset, instead he's treated like a dipshit for just being a good guy and believing in simple truths.
Now a lot of what this movie wants to be is a subversion of the old Lone Ranger adventures, trying to refocus the adventure in a different way. Instead of Tonto being a foolish native babbling broken English mysticism, he's an insane genius really driving the heroic plot. The Indians aren't villains, they're poor victims fighting against a rampaging imperialist railroad supported by villainous bandits and a corrupt colonel who is a dead-ringer for George Armstrong Custer. It might have actually worked if the movie, for example, did not cast Johnny Depp - an actor who is almost entirely White* and looks about as Cherokee as Al Pacino. There are about three million Native Americans living in the United States and apparently none of them were worthy of starring at a strong heroic Cherokee fighting against White oppression in a major motion picture.
It had to be Johnny Depp because Tonto this time is a clown. The character has not really evolved since the days he was a babbling stereotype. What Disney has done to keep him goofy and cliched was to claim that this new Tonto is insane. There are other Cherokees in this movie, who act as intelligent pragmatists fighting for their place in the world. But the one we focus on is a speaking to spirit animals with a fetish for trades - leading to a creeping feeling up my back that Tonto is going to sell the Isle of Manhattan for some beads. The movie has a lunatic that just so happens to be a racist stereotype, so maybe he isn't really a stereotype, maybe he is, maybe they want to have their cake and throw a tomahawk in it too. But what I do know is that Tonto is not the strong clever character we need to carry this movie**.
I guess they couldn't have Captain Jack just show up in the Wild West... but actually they could have. And it would have made a far better movie, wouldn't it?
What's even worse about it, is how this movie even mocks the source material. We spend two and a half hours going through an endless goddamn movie, finally hoping to see the Lone Ranger say his iconic line while the William Tell orchestra plays. Then you get it. Armie Hammer triumphantly yells: "HI-YO, SILVER, AWWWAAY!!!" Then Johnny Depp's Tonto has to bring us all down by yelling "don't ever do that again". How about this, Gore Verbinski? Don't ever make another movie if you can't show any goddamn respect. I feel like I'm watching goddamn "Green Lantern" again, where Ryan Renolds cheekily could laugh about "pledging allegiance to a lamp". Trust me, nobody is going to be nostalgic for this shitstorm in fifty years. At least this film gives a full playthrough of the William Tell Overture during the final action climax.
I don't maybe, I'm just out of my mind. Maybe you want a movie where it takes an hour and a half for the plot to even be outlined, and somehow manages to drag on for another hour past that point. Maybe you want a movie where the main villain might be a supernatural monster, or maybe not, because the writers cannot decide. Maybe you want a movie that's already about a million hours long, and needlessly adds a frame story featuring bad old age make-up Johnny Depp talking to a kid in a circus - thus meaning that this entire movie is all made up by a crazy old man. Maybe you want a movie full of historical inaccuracies and mistakes that puts the First Transcontinental Railroad in Cherokee territory and in Texas. Maybe you want a want a movie where Cherokees get massacred in one scene and the film is too busy and stupid to even hang onto that tone, and immediately jumps to dumb jokes about horses eating spiders. Maybe you want an action climax that last nearly a half hour and makes as much sense as a Bug Bunny slapstick routine. And maybe you want a simply awful experience for yourself and your entire family. "The Lone Ranger" has all that, and so much less to offer.
* At least one of his ancestors actually is a Native American, though its something like his great-great-great-grandfather. Its enough for the studio to have a weak defense against accusations of Redface, but its basically pointless when you dress him up in warpaint.
** This movie would have been about a million times smarter and more fun if the whole "idiot Indian" persona was actually an act put together by Tonto to fool dumb White people into thinking he's an idiot. Later we'll see him dressed normally, talking normally, laughing about pulling a great con on the Lone Ranger and the rest of the chumps. That's how you use a stereotype and make a strong character out of it, that's how you properly subvert a cliche.